April 16-24 marks World Week for Animals in Laboratories (WWAIL), bringing awareness to the millions whose cries and screams go unheard every day in the bowels of a nightmarish underworld known as America’s laboratories.
Using animals for scientific research is as archaic as if doctors were still performing lobotomies. So, why are animals still experimented on? Quite simply–the money! Research is big business, so breeders, government agencies, pharmaceutical companies, universities, and others who profit generously from animal research will do anything to keep making money, even if it means convincing the public that animal testing is necessary. And, just like the Wall Street bailout, animal research is primarily funded by taxpayer dollars through grants doled out by government-run agencies like the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Laboratories are living hells. Some animals are born there and never leave. Many spend their entire lives (40+ years) surrounded by concrete and steel, subjected to nonstop physical and emotional pain. Reactions to trauma include persistent gagging from repeatedly having tubes stuck down their throats, chewed off fingernails from anxiety, rocking, and banging their heads on cell walls. In addition, hypervigilance, depression and self-abuse (biting themselves) have also been exhibited in laboratory animals. These symptoms of distress have also been observed in people who have suffered physical and sexual abuse, war and other traumatic experiences, proving that suffering is universal, regardless who is experiencing it.
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) estimates that more than 25 million animals are used annually for research, testing, and education. These animals include mice, rats, birds, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, farm animals (pigs and sheep), dogs, primates (monkeys and chimpanzees), cats, frogs, and fish.
Chimpanzees used in research to study human diseases like HIV/AIDS remain incompatible and unsuccessful subjects, yet great apes linger behind bars because of the millions of dollars laboratories receive just to retain them. According to the New England Anti-Vivisection Society (NEAVS), in just 2008, taxpayers awarded $27.8 million to U.S. laboratories to “house and maintain” chimpanzees. Congress recently reintroduced the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act (H.R. 1513/S. 810), which calls for an end to invasive biomedical research and testing on great apes (chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos and orangutans). This proposed law also requires that all federally-owned great apes be given permanent sanctuary. This bill is long overdue, especially for the hundreds of apes languishing in cells who have never experienced climbing a tree or feeling the warmth of the sun.
Rabbits are used for eye irritancy tests and consumer product testing, among other experiments. They are immobilized in a device that only allows their heads to extend out while their eyes are held open with clips so that substances can be dropped into them. Tests may last as long as eighteen days and result in swollen eyelids, ulceration, bleeding and blindness. Many rabbits have broken their necks or backs struggling to escape. Other experiments include applying chemicals directly to their skin or forcing rabbits to ingest large quantities of toxic substances.
Dogs and cats are typically experimented on by colleges and universities. These dogs and cats are obtained from animal shelters, and from laboratory agents who answer “free to good home” ads and subsequently sell the animals to laboratories. Robert, an orange and white tabby cat, who was experimented on at the University of Utah, had a hole drilled into his skull so electrodes could be implanted in his brain for invasive brain experiments. Robert threw up following each experiment, which sent electrical currents through the electrodes in his brain making his legs move uncontrollably. He eventually became skittish and withdrawn, also exhibiting signs of trauma.
Rats and mice are most frequently used in experiments. Labs are not required to keep track of the number of rats and mice experimented on because they are not protected under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), but approximately twenty million-plus rats and mice are killed each year for research just in the U.S. These clever and friendly creatures are routinely infected with diseases, cut open, burned, mutilated, starved, poisoned and killed, usually without any anesthesia.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates drugs and cosmetics, has the power to require that non-animal testing alternatives be employed. The agency, however, continues to capitulate to industry pressure (read: pharmaceutical companies) by enforcing inadequate, unreliable and cruel animal tests, merely suggesting that alternatives be considered. There is little incentive for companies to use non-animal tests without the full force of the FDA making it mandatory. Until this happens, we will continue to have deadly results for both animals and humans as we did with Vioxx, the arthritis drug that was deemed safe after animal testing but was later pulled from pharmacy shelves after killing 60,000 people just in the U.S. According to NEAVS, adverse drug reactions cause more than 100,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. More than half of the drugs given the green light by the FDA are also pulled or relabeled for serious or fatal side effects that were not discovered during animal testing.
Newer, sophisticated technologies are making non-animal testing methods more and more prevalent. More than 500 manufacturers of cosmetics and household products have declined animal testing, opting instead for human clinical studies and test tube assessments that prove to be more accurate, cheaper and less time consuming.
According to In Defense of Animals (IDA), Tom's of Maine appealed to the American Dental Association (ADA) for seven years to grant its seal of approval to Tom's of Maine toothpastes. While other toothpaste companies were obediently performing deadly tests on rats to gain the ADA seal (They actually brushed the teeth of rats for more than a month, then killed them and examined their teeth under a microscope.), Tom's of Maine collaborated with researchers to create fluoride tests that could safely be conducted on human volunteers. The ADA accepted the results of these tests and granted its seal to several of the company's toothpastes in 1995. The company’s innovative efforts to find a humane alternative to cruel and tolerated animal tests set a precedent for other manufacturers to follow.
Non-animal testing methods benefit human health, eliminate animal suffering and save money. Transitioning to non-animal alternatives requires an educated public willing to question companies, governments and institutions that profit off of human ignorance and animal agony.
As a consumer, you can help reduce spending and eliminate animal cruelty by doing the following:
- Urge your Congressman and Senators to support the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act (H.R. 1513/S. 810). For more information, visit Release Chimps.
- Only buy consumer products that say “not tested on animals” or have the leaping bunny seal of approval. This seal indicates that the finished product–and all the ingredients that comprise it–was not tested on animals. For more information, visit Leaping Bunny Pledge.
- Only support charities that do not test on animals. These organizations choose to put charitable dollars toward sensible, preventative measures and the latest technology, rather than to baseless, outdated animal experiments. For information on humane charities, visit Humane Charity Seal of Approval.
- Speak up at school. Many states have enacted laws that allow students the right to refuse participation in animal dissection exercises. For more information, visit the New England Anti-Vivisection Society.